3 Key Factors That Determine Buildable Land

    by Laura Mueller

    If you’re purchasing raw land with the intention of building on it, you’ll have to do your research first to make sure that it’s a viable option. Not all land is zoned for building, or it may be exceedingly expensive to do so. So if your dream is to find the perfect plot of land for your next home, or you’re a developer looking for land for a commercial or residential development, you’ll want to be sure that the land you’re considering is buildable land. Here are three things to consider when making that distinction.

    1. Zoning and government regulations

    The government—local, state, and occasionally federal—has the first and final say about what land can and cannot be built on. There are quite a few reasons that zoning or government regulations may restrict building on a particular piece of land, including historical or natural preservation, population growth limitations, land use requirements or prohibitions, distance from utility hook-ups, etc. Depending on what you intend to build on the land, these regulations may limit—or even prevent—your building plans from shaping out how you want them to. In some cases you may be able to contest building requirements, but it’s a lot of work and there’s no guarantee you’ll be successful—a big problem if you’ve already purchased the land.

    2. Natural hazard restrictions

    If the land borders or is in a floodplain or earthquake zone you will likely face restrictions on where exactly your structure can stand, as well as additional requirements on structural elements you would be required to incorporate into the property. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides building code resources for those interested in building in a natural hazard zone, though you’ll want to get the opinion of a local expert as well to see if your plans are viable as is.

    3. Building and Planning Department guidelines

    Every town has a Building and Planning Department that must be contacted requiring a plot of land’s buildability. They’ll be able to inform you on any building or zoning restrictions the property has, and because they’re the go-to source for building requirements in a municipality, they can also walk you through the specific details of what’s allowed and what’s not. They’ll also be able to supply you with the town’s zoning map so you can easily verify whether the lot is zoned correctly for your plans. Make a visit to the town’s Building and Planning Department before making an offer on any land, since they’ll be able to provide you with the information you need to ensure it’s buildable.

    It’s always smart to do your research before making a land purchase if you’re planning to build, and to work with an experienced real estate agent who knows the ins-and-outs of local zoning regulations. It’s much easier to find land that’s optimized for building than to try to change the permit restrictions on a piece of land that’s not set up for buildability, so start gathering the necessary information as early on in the process as you can.

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